Jaron Lanier: 'Extinction is on the table as an outcome' of the chaos caused by social media
Computer scientist, composer, artist, and author Jaron Lanier has for years been outspoken about his total avoidance of social media platforms because of the harm that they inflict on their users and the detrimental impacts that they have on societies. In a 2018 conversation with Vox producer Eric Johnson, Lanier decried people who refuse to delete their accounts even though they can.
"You have even more of a responsibility to see if you can get out of it than someone who genuinely is dependent on it. So, I think that that argument has a situation exactly backwards. I mean, I and you and the people we tend to know are privileged. We’re wealthier than ever. We have more options. That puts a moral onus on us to make some decisions that do what little we can to help those who are less fortunate, and this is one of those things," he said.
"If you are actually in a position to quit and you don’t, you’re making yourself part of the problem. You’re not doing anything to free those who are more trapped. You’re only enslaving them more by entrenching the system. As an affluent or valuable person to the system, you’re the one that the whole system is being funded by," he added, later comparing online platforms to "gambling addiction."
On Sunday, Lanier warned in an interview with The Guardianthat the takeovers of tech giants like Twitter pose a fatal danger to the future existence of the human race.
“People survive by passing information between themselves,” Lanier explained to reporter Edward Helmore. “We’re putting that fundamental quality of humanness through a process with an inherent incentive for corruption and degradation. The fundamental drama of this period is whether we can figure out how to survive properly with those elements or not.”
Lanier believes that powerful digital arenas such as Twitter, whose owners allow misinformation, conspiracy theories, and hate speech to flourish, are exacerbating the threat that humanity faces.
“There are all kind of intermediaries. They might be the people who own a platform, recently Elon Musk, or third parties who are good at sneaking in influence. The interveners can be varied. Some are official, some are revealed, others hidden. Some are competent, some incompetent. Some are random, like an algorithm that someone made but didn’t understand," Lanier said. “I still think extinction is on the table as an outcome. Not necessarily, but it’s a fundamental drama. If we can coordinate ourselves to solve the climate crisis it’s a fundamental sign we haven’t become completely dysfunctional."
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